This week’s meeting was more eventful than most with the Springfield casino process taking center stage. Last week the commissioners discussed media reports that the City of Springfield had engaged the services of a seemingly conflicted Chicago law firm, Shefsky & Froelich, to help vet incoming applications. The firm also advises two of the developers competing for a casino license in the Western Massachusetts region, MGM and Penn National Gaming, as their registered lobbyist. Since news of the conflict began to surface last week, the Commission has received a letter from Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno. The letter, included in this week’s Commissioners’ Packet, asks the Commission to advise the City to ensure “a high level of integrity and transparency through out [sic] the process.”
The letter led the commissioners, who historically have acted on a consensus basis, to debate the proper course of action. While the debate was at all times cordial, it was marked by a more notable difference of opinion than has been seen in past Commission meetings. Commissioner McHugh advocated for deferring any response whatsoever until the state’s Ethics Commission could weigh-in on the matter (Chairman Crosby had spoken with a Springfield representative but was unable to remember whether the representative had stated that the city had already spoken with the Ethics Commission or was in the process of doing so). Commissioner Cameron agreed with Commissioner McHugh’s position that the Commission does not yet have enough of the facts to make any recommendations to the city.
Chairman Crosby, on the other hand, argued that the Commission is “not merely driven by the letter of the law” and advocated that the Commission act to address the apparent conflict immediately. In the end, the Commission adopted a compromise suggested by Commissioner Stebbins and requested that Springfield push off its proposed September 5, 2012 deadline for issuing its Phase I request for qualification to give the Commission time to hear more of the facts before issuing its opinion on the matter. Commissioner Stebbins noted host towns and surrounding communities should be encouraged to get advice from the Commission before making important decisions. While Springfield officials were unable to attend the September 4 Commission meeting, the commissioners have invited the city to send representatives to the September 11 meeting to discuss the Shefsky & Froelich issue.
The commissioners dispensed with the rest of the day’s business relatively quickly. The highlights were:
- The public job posting for the Executive Director position closes Friday, September 7. Commissioner Stebbins reported that in-person interviews with candidates will begin the week of September 17.
- The Commission approved the General Counsel job description last week and is going to engage the services of a personnel firm to lead the search for qualified candidates.
- The Commission has received 10 resumes for the staff attorney position and will be determining which candidates will be asked to interview over the next week. Commissioner McHugh has also reached out to Boston University School of Law to solicit additional candidates for the staff attorney position as well as for a potential one-year internship with the Commission.
- Commissioner Cameron will be spearheading the search for the Deputy Director of Investigations and Enforcement rather than using a search firm. Commissioner Cameron has been speaking with local law enforcement leaders to assist in identifying promising candidates. The job opening will be officially posted this week.
- Commissioner Stebbins is still working on narrowing the field of ombudsman candidates and hopes to have a list of finalists next week. Chairman Crosby continues to fill the ombudsman role in the interim.
- Commissioner Cameron received several last minute resumes just before the deadline for Director of Racing applications. She will begin interviewing candidates on Thursday, September 6.
Gaming Consultant Update
- Kristin Gooch, a project manager for the gaming consultants, updated the Commission on the consultants’ progress. The gaming consultants have provided the Commission with draft instructions and forms for the RFA Phase I process (“RFA-I”). The forms have been annotated to indicate which areas will be considered presumptively exempt from public disclosure. The annotated forms are available in the Commissioners’ Packet for the September 4 meeting. The commissioners moved to officially adopt the draft forms so that they will now be subject to the public notice and comment process.
- The commissioners are considering whether to solicit bids from outside groups to conduct the background investigations as part of the RFA-I process or whether to use the existing consultants for that piece. The investigations would not begin until mid-January once RFA-I responses have been submitted.
- The gaming consultants are still working on the strategic plan which Ms. Gooch reported they hope to present to the Commission the week of September 10.
Public Comment, Education and Information
- Chelsea City Manager Jay Ash submitted a series of questions on the RFA-I process to the Commission. Commissioner McHugh shared his draft responses with his colleagues for comment. The questions and draft responses are available in the Commissioners’ Packet for the meeting. Mr. Ash’s questions focused on the use of gaming revenues for host and surrounding community mitigation purposes. Chairman Crosby has spoken with Mr. Ash about his questions and during those discussions the idea of tying in pending casino workforce development projects with the “Welfare to Work” program was discussed. Chairman Crosby touted it as a “great idea.”
- Another letter submitted to the Commission raised the issue of free and discounted drinks in casinos and the happy hour ban in Massachusetts. Chairman Crosby proposed inviting the ABCC to a Commission meeting to update the group on their stance on the happy hour issue. Commissioner Stebbins also recommended inviting an industry representative who could speak to the impact of the happy hour ban on state businesses.
- The Commission will be holding public hearings on the draft RFA-I regulations on Monday, September 10. The hearing will be held at three different locations: Massasoit Community College in Brockton (attended by Commissioner Cameron); Springfield Technical Community College (attended by Chairman Crosby and Commissioner Stebbins); and the Boston Convention Center (attended by Commissioners McHugh and Zuniga). The locations will be linked by live video feed, allowing all participants to hear the questions and answers from each of the three locations.
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Those interested in learning more about Goodwin Procter’s gaming and gambling expertise and practice, and/or the items outlined above, should contact David Apfel or Bob Crawford, co-chairs of Goodwin Procter’s Gaming, Gambling & Sweepstakes Practice.